There’s this theory in modern psychology that says that if you identify the reason a destructive behaviour exists, you can triumph over it.
I’m not sure that’s true.
A month ago I interviewed a business coach about success. During our conversation, I had a lightbulb moment. I felt, as so many people probably have, that he was talking about me.
The coach said that to succeed, you need four things: clarity, flexibility, focus, and belief. And belief is the most important aspect of them all, he explained. The reason why is simple–if we don’t truly believe we can achieve our goals, we won’t. The belief in our own potential has to start with us.
As soon as he said the words, I realized I don’t believe in myself. And hadn’t for a long time.
“What if you’ve lost your belief?” I asked him. “How do you get it back?”
When he went over the reasons people lose that inner confidence, one resonated with me. I was using my past to define my future.
Several years ago, I was committed to getting published. I made sure I always had twenty query letters in the mail. The rejections could be disheartening, sure, but it was also a very exciting time. It was like having twenty lottery tickets and never knowing which one might be the one.
And then I got a letter in the mail.
It looked so much like your standard rejection letter that I almost threw it out. Luckily, I realized in time that it was a request for a partial.
Things moved quickly after that. The partial request turned into a full manuscript request, followed by an offer of representation. Finally, my number had come in! I was elated.
My new agent seemed perfect. She was fairly new to the agenting game, so she wasn’t tied up with dozens of clients who were more successful and important. And she’d been an editor for years–she seemed to have tons of contacts and connections. Best of all, she loved my book. When someone who has edited the work of the most respected authors in the world tells you that you have what it takes, it’s a heady feeling.
Her dreams for me were big…almost as big as my own. She was only going to approach the big publishers with my book, she said. No small presses for me. And my book would go up for auction. I would soon be the literary equivalent of a rockstar.
A niggling voice inside said that I should be cautious. Agents don’t make promises like that, the voice whispered. But I shrugged off my doubts. I’d been wanting this for so long that it was just difficult to accept it was finally happening, I told myself. I tried to relax and enjoy it.
My novel went out to six publishers…and came back with six rejections. Two editors were interested if I was willing to rewrite it as a young adult novel. Foolishly, I said no, and my agent agreed with me. The other four rejections were versions of “I’m just not that into it”. My book was not masculine enough, or the publisher already had a cop story set in Minnesota, etc. There was no consensus. I now know that the correct response to this is to shrug and keep submitting. But being new, my agent panicked. She wanted me to rewrite it slightly, just enough so she could pitch it as a genre other than psychological suspense.
Seeing that the rewrites might take a little time, I sent the agent my second novel, which I’d been told was even stronger.
And that’s when the trouble started.
Issues that had reared their ugly heads before began to come up more and more. Suddenly, there were missed appointments and missed deadlines…and not on my end. Many an evening I waited at a pre-arranged time for my agent to call me, only to be told the next day (after I followed up) that it had rained in New York and all the phone lines went down. Instead of reading my book, she passed it off to her assistant.
And when she did finally read it, she didn’t like it. She wanted rewrites–massive rewrites. But when I finished the work, she would take months to review it.
This pattern continued for years. Her life changed dramatically, and as it did, her priorities seemed to shift. Whenever I tentatively asked her about sales, she’d get defensive. I mentioned that she didn’t seem passionate about being my agent anymore, but each time she’d insist that wasn’t the case and say things would get better.
Finally, I decided enough was enough. I’d been rewriting the same book for about three or four years. And it wasn’t getting better…it was getting worse. Nothing was happening with either of my novels. I hadn’t written a new thing in years because I was so consumed with rewrites. I gently told the agent that we needed to part ways, and we ended things amicably. I immediately wrote a new book, the first since being signed.
And then I wrote another. And another.
I haven’t sent out a single query since I got that first request for a partial.
Instead of simply learning from my past, I was allowing it to dictate my future. Since my first experience with an agent was unsuccessful, I was terrified all my experiences would be. Which makes as much sense as thinking all your relationships are doomed to fail because you’ve had one break-up.
But, foolish or not, I’d absorbed this belief. It had become part of my truth. And yet, I wasn’t ready to give up on the dream of being traditionally published. I continued to write and not submit my work.
This is the year I’ve promised myself I’m going to get back in the game–to learn from the past instead of letting it define me.
However, just because I’ve realized what was holding me back doesn’t mean I’ve conquered it. I’m still scared of failing.
And getting over that fear is the hardest part.
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s purpose is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!